Without Roger Maris, the Hall of Fame isn’t complete

4 11 2009

Update: Now that Mark McGwire has admitted juicing when he broke Roger Maris’ record (which was obvious at the time, by the way), do I think he should be elected to the Hall of Fame? Yes, absolutely. 37 years after Maris gets in.

When I was a young man, I swore I would not visit the Baseball Hall of Fame until Roger Maris was properly enshrined.

I retreated on the vow after making another vow. My oldest son, Mike, was a Johnny Bench fan. When Bench retired in 1983, Mike asked if he would make it to the Hall of Fame. I assured him that Bench would be voted in on the first ballot. Mike asked what year that would be. I said 1989. Mike asked if we could go to the induction ceremonies. I said sure. What kid remembers a promise like that five-plus years later?

Mike did. And we spent a marvelous weekend in Cooperstown watching Bench, Carl Yastrzemski, Red Schoendienst and Harry Caray inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The museum was fabulous, even crowded with induction-weekend fans. I didn’t spend much time in the hall itself. Maris wasn’t there and his absence cheapens the honor for those who are. If the selection process and the electors are obviously biased and skewed, how much can it mean to get in?

If that museum in Cooperstown were the Hall of Longevity or the Hall of High Batting Averages, then fine, leave Maris out. Those are the only two legitimate knocks against him. But it’s the Hall of Fame. And Maris is more famous than most of the players there.

First Maris broke the most famous record in baseball. Then he held it for 37 years, losing it only to players who clearly used performance-enhancing drugs. During that 37 years, you never had to explain what record Maris held. Whoever hit a lot of homers in April was on pace to pass Roger Maris and every baseball fan knew what that meant because Maris and his record were that famous. His record was so famous that when Billy Crystal made an HBO movie about that season, all he needed was the number and the unjust asterisk: 61*. Everyone knew who the movie was about. And for 37 years, all those guys who were on pace to pass Maris didn’t make it and his fame grew.

Maris set the record in 1961, an expansion year for baseball. So the Maris haters who wanted to diminish his record said he broke the record only because of watered-down pitching. But baseball expanded again in 1962 and ’69 and ’77 and no one came close to 61*. They even juiced the ball in 1987 and no one came close. Finally people started coming close in the ’90s when baseball expanded again. But of course, expansion had nothing to do with all the homers hit in the 1990s.

Roger Maris is not in the Hall of Fame because he didn’t suck up to baseball writers during his chase of Babe Ruth. Period. Commissioner Ford Frick hated him for breaking Ruth’s record and baseball writers hated him for not being their buddy and not being Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth. Every other excuse anyone gives for him not being in the Hall of Fame is fiction.

He was not a one-hit wonder. Maris was a Most Valuable Player the year before he broke Ruth’s record. He was a winner, playing in five World Series for the Yankees and two more for the Cardinals, winning three championships altogether. Injuries (and negligence by Yankee doctors trying to keep him in the lineup) cut short his career, so he didn’t rack up big career numbers. He was a Gold Glove outfielder. His batting average, .260, was low, but not too low for the Hall of Fame (four points higher than Harmon Killebrew, two points higher than Rabbit Maranville, two lower than Luis Aparacio, Gary Carter and Ozzie Smith, seven lower than Bench and Mike Schmidt.)

Maris’ 275 career homers were not too few for a Hall of Fame slugger. Hack Wilson, who holds the single-season RBI record, hit only 244. And he’s in the Hall of Fame.

But statistics aren’t the reason Maris has to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s quite simply because it’s the Hall of Fame and Maris was one of baseball’s most famous players ever. Let’s go back to 1998, back when most fans were pretending that the surge in homers was genuine. Remember what a great year that was — Big Mac and Sammy chasing Roger Maris. The Hall of Fame gets hung up on lots of arbitrary magic lines — 300 wins, 3,000 hits, 500 homers. Cross those lines (pre-steroid era, at least) and you’re in the Hall of Fame. Maris didn’t cross any of those magic lines that dozens of players have crossed.

But here’s a line that only a few have crossed: If your ghost and your record dominate a magical baseball summer decades after you retired and years after you died, you are not one of a few dozen baseball immortals. You are one of a few. Only Ruth and Lou Gehrig did that. And Maris. DiMaggio will do it if anyone ever comes close. No other record or player is so special.

Without such players, the Hall of Fame lacks credibility.


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16 responses

7 11 2009
dane bramage

1961 was an incredible season,especially for this (then) 13 year old.Roger was a stubborn son of a gun,i.e. refusing a higher minor league assignment in order to stay home in Fargo with his future wife,refusing to take extra practice in the outfield because he felt he was unfairly singled out,his disregard for the media,and so on.A rifle arm,good baserunner,and if he eschewed the short porch,he would have had a much higher BA. Also, check out the Series saving play against the Giants with the winning runs on base.HOF…HELL YES!

6 01 2010
Thurman Munson belongs in the Hall of Fame « Hated Yankees

[...] Thurman Munson belongs in the Hall of Fame, too, along with Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry, Roger Maris, Graig Nettles, Tommy John and Allie Reynolds (I’ll write about John and Reynolds someday). [...]

19 01 2010
Umpireerniebrown

Since a child I have been a Roger Maris fan, there is nothing in this article that I havent heard and/or didnt know or suspect. The reality that my childhood baseball idol, will sit out the Hall of Fame is a bit of a challenge. . .I also thought that Ronnie Hansen was a killer player. . .who is he. . .doesnt matter. All of my gloves with Roger Maris, the bats the pictures all of them are still a part of my life. . .Maybe one day we will hear the announcement that the Rahjah is in. . . Hey the HAWK made it. . .by the way in 1963 I traded a Mickey Mantle for a 60-61 and 62 Topps Roger Maris. . .and I am still proud of it. . .and still have them. . .E1*

23 01 2010
wagnerlarry

Re: “Without Roger Maris, the Hall of Fame isn’t complete”, right on, Steve! Questions I hope someone can address:
Who are the members of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee and can fans like me write or email them to advocate for Maris?
When is the next election by the Veterans Committee and will Maris name appear on their list of nominees?
What can Maris supporters do to help get him in the Hall? I have signed and am promoting the online petition.

5 01 2011
Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame, but not before Ron Guidry « Hated Yankees

[...] Guidry took a while to make it to the major leagues as a reliever and didn’t become a starter until he was 26. And when injuries caused a decline in his performance, he retired at age 37, rather than try to come back and add some mediocre 8-win or 12-win seasons at the end of his career. But over a nine-year stretch, Guidry was hands-down the best pitcher in the American League and second only to Steve Carlton, a first-ballot Hall of Famer even though he was a jerk (and you know how baseball writers hate a player who doesn’t suck up to them). [...]

5 02 2011
Andy Pettitte: a borderline Hall of Fame candidate (so he won’t get in) « Hated Yankees

[...] should but he probably won’t. Yankees who should be automatic Hall of Famers (see Ron Guidry, Roger Maris, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly) get rejected from Cooperstown, so a borderline candidate like [...]

16 05 2011
Rich

Maris was very good….for two seasons. That does not merit HOF induction.

31 05 2011
Jay Smith

Maris was “very good…for two seasons.” ?????

Wrong. He was “very great” for two seasons and pretty darn good for many others. Remember, Maris’s career was a relatively short 12 years. In those 12 years he was twice MVP (one of only 11 in history to win it back to back), played on four All-Star teams, and won a Gold Glove for defensive skills (his career Fielding Percentage of .983 is higher than that of Willy Mays, Brooks Robinson, Joe DiMaggio and Hank Aaron to name a few). And Maris’s career .476 Slugging Percentage is better than Dave Winfield, Roberto Clemente, Carl Yastremski, Wade Boggs and other Hall of Fame hitters. Yes, Roger Maris deserves a place in Cooperstown.

16 05 2011
hatedyankees

Actually, Maris was the best in baseball for two seasons and had one more very good season and several pretty good seasons before injury (and malpractice by team doctors) cut short his career (and he still contributed to a couple championships in his diminished state). Most Hall of Famers did not have peak years that approached what Maris did. And only a few are famous decades after they retire (remember, it’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Longevity).

16 05 2011
Umpireerniebrown

When someone says that Roger Maris only had 2 great seasons, which two are they speaking of. . .60 and 61 or 67 and 68. . .he was a LEADER on the Cardinals team, and by all evidence the Cardinals would not have been as succesful, he was celebrated and I believe he was the MVP for the 67 series. . .but then again, I also know that team was loaded with talent. . .1968 was the last year of my childhood. . .I entered High School the next year, and girls became more important than baseball, I have always regretted that. . .By the way, this summer I go to Fargo for one reason to see the Roger Maris Museum.

13 09 2011
Roger Maris is one of baseball’s most famous players ever; who needs the Hall of Fame? « Hated Yankees

[...] already made the case for Maris to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s an easy case to make. Let’s examine just how famous he is, compared to his [...]

4 11 2011
If journalists were objective, Roger Maris would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame « The Buttry Diary

[...] make the full case here for why Maris belongs in the Hall of Fame. I did that two years ago on my Hated Yankees blog. As I noted earlier this year when the 50th anniversary of his 61st homer of 1961 approached, few [...]

11 12 2012
I cross the streams, discussing Hated Yankees and journalism « Hated Yankees

[...] to help people using Google find my posts in they are interested in reading about Mattingly (or Roger Maris or Ron Guidry or Thurman Munson or Tommy John or …). Ten of my 12 blog posts that have been [...]

13 01 2013
A champion like Bernie Williams would be a sure Hall of Famer in football or basketball « Hated Yankees

[...] most obvious Yankee to add to the Hall of Fame would be Roger Maris, whose case I’ve made in three different blog posts. He’s Exhibit 1 for the case of anti-Yankee bias in Hall of Fame voting, [...]

15 10 2014
Keeping a 29-year-old promise, I’m headed to the World Series | Hated Yankees

[…] I told them about the Yankees’ glorious history and about growing up watching Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Bobby Richardson. I told them about meeting Ron Guidry in 1976. Mike was a baby at […]

22 10 2014
Decades of Royals (Kauffman) Stadium memories | Hated Yankees

[…] my heart that year, but the next year was a great season to be a young Yankee fan, as Mantle and Roger Maris chased and Maris eventually broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. I was hooked for […]

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